What is the chief end of man?
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 1
The 1981 film “Chariots of Fire” was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won four, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score. The movie is a fact-based story centered around two English athletes, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, who compete in the 1924 Olympic Games. Central to the plot is Eric Liddell’s refusal to run a preliminary heat of the 100-yard dash scheduled for a Sunday. For him to run would be a violation of the Sabbath. Liddell and Abrahams are presented as competitors, but it is their individual motivations for running that I find particularly instructive. Prior to his final race in the 100-yard dash, Abrahams states: “I have ten seconds to justify my entire existence.” In contrast, Liddell proclaims, “God made me fast; and when I run I feel His pleasure.”
I think this juxtaposition of motives is instructive when applied to our own work. Is my work primarily about my glory or God’s? Abrahams’ explanation reflects that of the people who built the Tower of Babel: “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4). Many in our culture see their work in like manner. It seems their primary achievement is to make a name for themselves, either in professional or financial terms. The purpose of their work is to make their own name great.
Liddell saw his ability to run as a gift from God, and as he fully exercised that gift he found both meaning and joy. The Bible demonstrates that our work has twin objectives. We work for His glory as well as for our good. Genesis 1 informs us that God has privileged His image bearers to be co-creators in partnership with Him. He has condescended to allow us to continue to shape the world that He has first created out of nothing. Essentially, He has commanded His creatures to extend the flourishing nature of the Garden of Eden until it covers the face of the entire earth. In creation, God has provided the raw materials from which men and women are to shape and fill a world for God’s glory and their good.
Work was designed as a good and glorious enterprise. But it is the Fall which has made work hard, seemingly futile and meaningless. Sin turns the purpose of our work from the glory of God to our own glory. We seek to make a name for ourselves rather than making a name for God. “We have exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Romans 1: 25).
But the Gospel renews us and reshapes our calling in Ephesians 2:10. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Here we find that we are being renewed as God’s work of art, recreated by the Spirit through the finished work Christ Jesus for good works. God is at work in us in order that He might work through us. The good works here is more than our work, but not less than our work. And the fact that God has “prepared” the works beforehand “that we might walk in them” should draw our attention back to Genesis 1 where God provided the raw material of creation as the starting place for our work. Again, God condescends to be co-workers with us in shaping the world according to His design and plan. God is at work in us and through us for His glory and the common good.
Jesus points us then to the ultimate end of our work. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven” ( Matthew 5: 16).
You are God’s work of art. You have been created in His image. How is God’s image made manifest in you? How has God gifted you? To what end do you work? Eric Liddell was fast, and he understood his speed to be a gift from God. When he exercised his gift, he brought glory to God and found pleasure and meaning through it. May you find pleasure and meaning in your work today as you exercise your gifts for His name. Remember that God is at work in you and through you to the praise of His glory.